Luckily, we live in a connected world where we can communicate with others at the click of a button. Before we even set out to do something, we see how others have done it. We can learn from their mistakes and take their advice.
We brought this up to our team to see what past volunteers have to say about the things they wish they would have done while they were at our projects. Overwhelmingly, the most common answer was this: “I wish I would have stayed longer.”
Here’s what our past volunteers have told us (and how you can learn from them):
2-3 Weeks Just Isn’t Enough
The most frequent feedback we get from volunteers, especially our participants who volunteer for fewer than three weeks, is that they didn’t feel like they totally accomplished what they set out to do. This can happen for a handful of reasons, but it ultimately comes down to the fact that they simply didn’t have enough time.
For short placements, this is what it sometimes feels like:
It can take a week, maybe even two, to settle into your project and dorm, make friends with fellow volunteers, and adjust to the new culture. You’re sharing a room, so you have to be social, you’re eating different foods, and every different little experience feels new for at least a few days.
After this, you finally feel like you’re finding your feet with the project, you have seen a few places in the country during your weekends, and you are now really getting into the swing of things––really starting to make a difference.
And then it’s time to leave two days later!
Sometimes volunteers on shorter placements often feel like they didn’t have enough time to build good relationships. For example, if you’re volunteering abroad to do some teaching, it often takes time to nurture a healthy, strong relationship with the students in order to effectively do the job. It’s very difficult, sometimes downright impossible, to get that squeezed into just a couple weeks.
The staff and management of some projects are starting to notice this and now are changing the minimum duration to be longer than 2 weeks. A prime example of this the orphanage project in Costa Rica, which was once a two-week minimum, but is now a five-week minimum. Remember that the project usually sets the minimum durations.
Also bear in mind that they have to train you to do the work efficiently. Some volunteer placements would rather train a volunteer who will stay for a minimum of 4-6+ weeks––instead of training three different volunteers who stay for just 2 weeks each.
You Won’t Get Bored
Some volunteers chose these short trips because they feared they would get bored in one place the whole time. However, it takes a few weeks to really start to settle in, and that might leave you only two weekends of personal traveling!
There are endless things to do in your program destination: from meeting locals, meeting other travelers, hiking mountains, trying new food, exploring the local area, going on weekend trips…we can go on all day about all the incredible opportunities there are to enjoy yourself while volunteering abroad. With all of these opportunities, you definitely won’t feel bored while you are on your trip.
Staying longer also gives you more time to explore the local area in detail. You may even start to see it as “home” for the time being. When you have several weekends to explore the beaches and hot spots around you, there’s no need to cram them all into just two weekends.
Spending time in your placement location instead of travelling every weekend also allows you to make more local friends, since most locals stay in town for the weekends. One of the best things about traveling is how eager people are to meet you, and friendly neighbors will be no exception.
It’s Relatively More Affordable
Contrary to popular belief, it’s ultimately more affordable to book a longer trip than a shorter one. A 4-week trip costs around $1,500, and a 12-week trip may be around $3000.
The per-day cost of a 4-week trip is $53.57, but the per-day cost of the 12-week trip is only $35.75.
Round-trip airfare won’t be that much different, whether you’re staying for two weeks or ten weeks. So, if it works with your schedule, staying longer gives you more bang for your airfare buck.
Don’t Let Your Job Hold You Back
Many volunteers book short trips because they don’t want to miss too much work or school. But volunteering abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so you shouldn’t rush it. If you have to miss a semester of school, you can always take a semester off and pick up right where you left off and finish your degree when you return. A few extra classes during summer or winter break will get you right back up to speed!
Even if you have a job, you can still volunteer abroad. You might have to plan a few months in advance if it’s full-time by taking a “sabbatical,” or taking unpaid vacation. You can even plan it between jobs if that helps you take a longer trip without stressing about missing work.
When you look back on your life, you’ll find that a few extra weeks or months in school or regular work fly by. But on your volunteer abroad trip, those extra weeks could be the time you need to truly feel like you’re living and working abroad––and making a difference while you do it. We have heard time and time again that our volunteers regret not staying just a few weeks longer, and we hope you don’t make the same mistake.
But regardless of how long you stay, it’s our goal to make sure you make the most of your time. So come prepared to hit the floor running…especially if you are on a shorter placement!